One of the first actions of the new Irish government when it is elected should be to invite President Obama to Ireland.
This week opposition leader Enda Kenny met with American Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney. Kenny is almost certain to be taoiseach (prime minister), so we can assume an invite will be offered as soon as he takes office.
Under that scenario, which will happen on March 9, Kenny could hand deliver the invite to the White House in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
What a highlight it would be for Irish America if the president accepted the invite on March 17 at the annual Irish party at the White House.
An Irish visit by President Obama, either as an extension of his upcoming visit to the U.K. or a separate trip, would be a powerful boost to the country at a time when it is badly in need of one.
It would also play well with millions of Irish Americans, many of whom have memories of the transformative impact of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963, and more recently, President Clinton’s visit to Northern Ireland in 1995 which had a huge impact on the peace process there.
Later, Clinton described his Irish visit as one of the highlights of his presidency, while Kennedy, as his late brother Senator Edward used to ruefully note, insisted on showing the home movies of his Irish trip to everyone who showed up at the White House.
In recent times, a visit to Ireland has become a rite of passage for an American president. Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush all went and had their moment in the Emerald Isle.
Obama’s visit would come at a time of difficulty for Ireland on the world stage. Ireland’s image has undergone a dramatic transformation for the worse in recent times after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.
Editorials in the U.S. that once lauded Ireland’s economic progress now speak only of the gloom and doom that has settled like a blanket fog over the country.
A visit by Obama could be a transformative act in ensuring that the real message of Ireland can get out.
Yes, times are hard, but many of the essential fundamentals of the Irish economy remain strong.
Two massive international players in Google and Intel recently showed their continuing confidence in Ireland by making huge new investments there.
The country continues to have one of the strongest tourism products in the world, and with prices finally falling back to realistic levels visitors are finding bargains once again.
All that and a new government could kick off a new appraisal of Ireland. An Obama visit could play very well into that narrative.
There is also the factor of Obama’s own slice of Irish heritage on his mother’s side which traces to a tiny cottage in Co. Offaly.
Parish records in the hamlet of Moneygall reveal that Obama’s great great grandfather, Fulmouth Kearney, arrived in New York in 1850. He was following relatives who settled in America from the mid-1700s on.
Obama in Moneygall would be a wonderful day out for all of Ireland. The country could badly do with such a boost, and Irish Americans would definitely be on board.
Let us hope we see it confirmed over St. Patrick’s Day.